A Movie A Day #101: Swamp Thing (1982, directed by Wes Craven)


I have been dreading this moment for a while.

Ever since I decided that, while we are reviewing every episode of Twin Peaks, that every entry in Movie A Day would have a connection with the show, I knew that I would have to eventually review Swamp Thing.  I didn’t want to because I hate Swamp Thing but, outside of his work as Leland Palmer, it is also Ray Wise’s most famous role.  One of the good things about Twin Peaks is that it saved Ray Wise from being forever known as Swamp Thing.

Of course, Ray Wise does not really play Swamp Thing.  He plays Alec Holland, the human scientist who is working on a formula that will allow animals and plants to thrive in extreme environments.  When the evil Dr. Arcane (Louis Jourdan) sends his henchmen (including veteran bad guys David Hess and Nicholas Worth) to steal the formula, Alec gets set on fire and runs into the Louisiana bayou.  When Alec emerges, he has become Swamp Thing, half-human and half-plant.  He is also now played by Dick Durock.  Swamp Thing must protect both bodacious Alice Cable (Adrienne Barbeau) and streetwise swamp kid Jude (Reggie Batts) while trying to prevent Arcane from using the formula to turn himself into a werewolf and conquer the world.

Despite the easily mocked name, Swamp Thing has often been one of the best characters in the DC universe.  The movie does not being to do the character justice.  At the time, Wes Craven was best known for movies like Last House on the Left and The Hills Have Eyes.  Swamp Thing was an attempt to show that he could direct a big-budget, studio production.  Unfortunately, Craven takes a deliberately campy approach to the material, to the extent that, if not for a handful of scenes like Swamp Thing crushing David Hess’s skull, Swamp Thing could have easily been directed by Joel Schumacher during his Batman years.  Just the name Swamp Thing is campy enough.  There’s no need to toss in Louis Jourdan turning into a werewolf.  Fans of Adrienne Barbeau will do better to rewatch Escape from New York than sit through Swamp Thing.

Fortunately, for Ray Wise, Twin Peaks came along and saved him from forever being known as Swamp Thing.

20 Horror Icons Who Were Never Nominated For An Oscar


Though they’ve given some of the best, iconic, and award-worthy performances in horror history, the actors and actresses below have never been nominated for an Oscar.

Scarlet Diva

  1. Asia Argento

Perhaps because of charges of nepotism, people are quick to overlook just how good Asia Argento was in those films she made with Dario Argento.  Her work in Trauma especially deserves to be reevaluated.  Outside of her work with Dario, Asia gave great, self-directed performances in Scarlet Diva and The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things.

2. Jamie Lee Curtis

“Prom Night!  Everything is all right!”  Did you know that Jamie Lee Curtis received a Genie Nomination for her performance in Prom Night?  That could be because, in 1980, there weren’t that many movies being produced in Canada but still, Jamie was pretty good in that film.  And, of course, there’s a little film called Halloween

3. Peter Cushing

The beloved Hammer horror veteran did wonderful work as both Frankenstein and Van Helsing.  Personally, I love his odd cameo in Shock Waves.

4. Robert Englund

One, two, Freddy’s coming for you…

5. Lance Henriksen

One of the great character actors, Lance Henriksen gave one of the best vampire performances of all time in Kathryn Bigelow’s Near Dark.

David Hess, R.I.P.

6. David Hess

In just two films — Wes Craven’s Last House On The Left and Ruggero Deodato’s The House On The Edge of the Park — Hess defined screen evil.  If nothing else, he deserved an Oscar for composing The Road Leads To Nowhere.

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7. Boris Karloff

As our own Gary Loggins will tell you, it’s a crime that Boris Karloff never received an Oscar nomination.  He may be best remembered for Frankenstein but, for me, Karloff’s best performance was in Targets.

8. Camille Keaton

Yes, Camille Keaton did deserve a Best Actress nomination for I Spit On Your Grave.

Kinski and Butterfly

9. Klaus Kinski

The notorious and talented Klaus Kinski was never nominated for an Oscar.  Perhaps the Academy was scared of what he would do if he won.  But, that said, Kinski gave some of the best performances of all time, in films for everyone from Jess Franco to Werner Herzog.

Christopher Lee Is Dracula

10. Christopher Lee

That the amazing Christopher Lee was never nominated is a shock.  Though he will always be Dracula, Lee gave wonderful performances in films of all genres.  Lee always cited the little-seen Jinnah as being his best performance.

 

11. Bela Lugosi

The original Dracula, Lugosi never escaped typecasting.  Believe it or not, one of his finest performances was in one of the worst (if most enjoyable) films of all time, Ed Wood’s Bride of the Monster.

12. Catriona MacColl

This English actress gave three excellent performances in each chapter of Lucio Fulci’s Beyond Trilogy, with her performance in The House By The Cemetery elevating the entire film.

13. Daria Nicolodi

This Italian actress served as a muse to two of the best directors around, Dario Argento and Mario Bava.  Her award-worthy performances include Deep Red and, especially, Shock.

Near-Dark-Bill-Paxton

14. Bill Paxton

This great Texas actor gave award-worthy performances in everything from Near Dark to Aliens to Frailty.  RIP.

15. Donald Pleasence 

Dr. Loomis!  As good as he was in Halloween, Pleasence also gave excellent performances in Roman Polanski’s Cul-de-Sac and a nightmarish Australian film called Wake in Fright.

Roger Corman and Vincent Price

16. Vincent Price

The great Vincent Price never seems to get the respect that he deserves.  He may have overacted at times but nobody went overboard with as much style as Vincent Price.  His most award-worthy performance?  The Witchfinder General.

17. Giovanni Lombardo Radice

The greatest of all the Italian horror stars, Radice is still active, gracious, and beloved by his many fans.  Quentin Tarantino is a self-described fan so it’s time for Tarantino to write him a great role.

HenryPortrait

18. Michael Rooker

To many people, this great character actor will always be Henry.

19. Joe Spinell

This character actor will always be remembered for playing the lead role in the original Maniac but he also appeared in some of the most acclaimed films of all time.  Over the course of a relatively short career, Spinell appeared in everything from The Godfather to Taxi Driver to Rocky to Starcrash.  He was the American Klaus Kinski,

20. Barbara Steele

Barbara Steele has worked with everyone from Mario Bava to Jonathan Demme to David Cronenberg to Federico Fellini.  Among her many excellent performances, her work in Black Sunday and Caged Heat stands out as particularly memorable.

black-sunday

Pure 80s Hokum: Let’s Get Harry (1986, directed by Alan Smithee)


Lets-get-harry-movie-poster-1986-1020362350Let’s Get Harry opens deep in the jungles of Columbia.  The newly appointed American Ambassador (Bruce Gray) is touring a newly constructed water pipeline when suddenly, terrorist drug smugglers attack!  The Ambassador, along with chief engineer Harry Burck (Mark Harmon, long before NCIS), is taken hostage.  Drug Lord Carlos Ochobar announces that both the Ambassador and Harry will be executed unless the U.S. government immediately releases Ochobar’s men.  However, the policy of the U.S. government is to not negotiate with terrorists.  As grizzled mercenary Norman Shrike (Robert Duvall) explains it, nobody gives a damn about a minor ambassador.

Nobody in a small blue-collar town in Illinois gives a damn about the ambassador either.  But they do give a damn about their friend Harry!  When its obvious that the bureaucrats up in Washington are not going to do anything, Harry’s younger brother, Corey (Michael Shoeffling, Sixteen Candles), decides that he and his friends are going to go to Columbia themselves and get Harry!  Helping him out are Bob (Thomas F. Wilson, Back to the Future), Kurt (Rick Rossovich, Top Gun), Spence (Glenn Frey!), and Jack (Gary Busey).  If Jake Ryan, Biff Tannen, Slider, Buddy Holly, and the guy from the Eagles who wasn’t Don Henley can’t get Harry, then who can!?

There were a lot of these “American rescue mission” movies made in the 80s, everything from Uncommon Valor to The Delta Force to the Rambo films.  Plotwise, Let’s Get Harry adds little to the genre.  It’s about as simplistic and implausible as a Donald Trump campaign speech.  A bunch of terrorists are holding American hostages and making us all look bad while the establishment refuses to do anything about it?  Don’t worry!  Here come a bunch of heavily armed, no-nonsense American citizens to save the day and make America great again!

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There are two things that distinguish Let’s Get Harry.  First, Let’s Get Harry is one of the many films to have been credited to Alan Smithee.  From 1968 to 2000, Alan Smithee was the official pseudonym used by directors who wanted to disown a project.  Smithee has been credited as directing everything from Solar Crisis to Morgan Stewart’s Coming Home to The O.J. Simpson Story.  In the case of Let’s Get Harry, Smithee was standing in for veteran director Stuart Rosenberg (probably best known for Cool Hand Luke).  Rosenberg originally only planned for Mark Harmon to be seen only at the end of the film, much like Matt Damon in Saving Private Ryan.  When TriStar Pictures demanded extra scenes featuring Harmon being taken and held hostage, Rosenberg took his name off the film.

(Before Rosenberg signed on to direct, Let’s Get Harry started out as a Sam Fuller project and he received a story credit on the film.  With the exception of some of the scenes with Harmon, which may have been shot by a different director, Rosenberg’s direction was adequate but Let’s Get Harry really does cry out for a director like Sam Fuller.)

Secondly, there is the cast, which is a lot more interesting than would be typically found in a low-budget, 80s action film.  Not surprisingly, by respectively underplaying and overplaying, Duvall and Busy give the two best performances.  Meanwhile, lightweight Mark Harmon gives the worst.  Perhaps because of the conflict between Rosenberg and the studio over his character, Harmon spends the entire movie looking lost.

lgh

As an exercise in patriotic wish fulfillment, Let’s Get Harry is pure 80s hokum.  It may be dumb but it is also entertaining.  After all, any film that features not only Robert Duvall, Gary Busey, and Ben Johnson, but also Glenn Frey is going to be worth watching.  Let’s Get Harry has never been released on DVD and is currently only available on VHS.  Somebody needs to do something about this.

Let’s get Harry on DVD!

lgh2

6 Trailers from Wes Craven


(Credit: Gracja Waniewska)

(Credit: Gracja Waniewska)

Last night, we were all stunned by the news that director We Craven had passed away after a battle with brain cancer.  If you want to see a great tribute to Craven, check out this 4 Shots From 4 Films that Arleigh posted on his birthday.  If you want to read a great reflection of Wes Craven and his career, check out this tribute from Ryan the Trashfilm Guru.

As for me, I’m going to share an anecdote and then, I’m going to pay tribute to Wes with a six trailer salute.

First, the anecdote.  I can still remember the first time that I ever watched Last House On The Left.  It was a film that I had mixed feelings about.  On the one hand, as a horror lover, I could not help but be impressed by the terrifying performances of Fred Lincoln and David Hess.  I could not help but by moved by the way Hess’s haunting song, Now You’re All Alone, was used in the film.  And, as low-budget and exploitive as the film may have been, I could see that Wes Craven was more interested in critiquing sadism than in celebrating it.

At the same time, it was still an unpleasant film for me, as a woman, to watch and the addition of some clumsy humor pretty much confirmed that Craven was still finding his way as a filmmaker.  It was one of those films that I knew, as a horror fan, I had to watch but I wouldn’t say that I enjoyed it.

However, that night, I did end up watching the movie twice.  I watched it a second time so that I could listen to the commentary from Wes Craven and producer Sean S. Cunningham.  And — oh my God — both of these guys were so funny and charming!  Craven, especially, seemed to enjoy pointing out scenes that didn’t quite work and the frequently awkward dialogue that he had written.  Craven and Cunningham both came across as being two of the nicest guys in the world and it was indeed an experience to hear them cheerfully talking while these absolutely vile images were flickering by onscreen.

And really, that taught me an important lesson and it’s one that I remember to this day.  Whenever I hear some judgmental know-it-all claiming that only a sick person could direct or write a horror movie, I remember that charming Wes Craven audio commentary.

And now, here are six trailers for six of Wes Craven’s films.

Wes Craven, R.I.P.

David Hess, R.I.P.


The grindhouse mourns today for actor David Hess, who passed away on Saturday at the age of 69. 

Where to start with David Hess?  He would probably start with the fact that, before he become an actor, he was a succesful songwriter whose songs were performed by Elvis Presley and Pat Boone.  He was also a singer himself and can be heard performing his brand of dark folk in several of the films that he later appeared in.  He won a Grammy for co-writing a rock opera called “The Naked Carmen.”  He was also good friends with the writer, actor and political activist, Malachy McCourt (brother of Angela’s Ashes author Frank McCourt) and recorded an album with him.  Hess never stopped making music and he even recorded a few tracks for Eli Roth’s Cabin Fever.

However, David Hess is probably best known for playing assorted rapists, killers, and other unpleasant people in over 30 films.  Starting with his iconic performance as Krug in Wes Craven’s original Last House On The Left, Hess quickly established himself as one of the most believable (and scary) villains in the grindhouse world.  Whether he was holding Franco Nero hostage in Hitch-Hike, terrorizing guests while wearing a canary yellow suit in The House On The Edge of the Park, or playing a rare good guy in Camping Del Terrore (a film which co-starred another recently deceased grindhouse favorite, Charles Napier), Hess was always both bigger-than-life and a surprisingly underrated actor.  Hess may have made a career out of playing killers but every killer was unique and special in his own twisted way.

Like many movie psychos, David Hess was a funny, sensitive, and, at time, erratic interview subject.  Interviews with him can be found on the DVD releases of Hitch-Hike, The House on the Edge of The Park, and Last House On The Left and all three of them are worth owning for that reason alone.

While I doubt those toadsuckers in the Academy will see fit to honor David Hess during next year’s Oscar ceremony, he will forever be remembered by film fans (i.e., the people who actually matter). 

 

David not only starred in Last House On The Left but he also composed the music.  Below is his song, Wait For The Rain.

And even though he didn’t compose the soundtrack for The House On The Edge of the Park, here’s a clip of David Hess watching Giovanni Lombardo Radice dance in that film.  Yes, I’ve shown this clip before but I just happen to love it.  This clip proves, once again, that even in a canary yellow suit, David Hess could still dominate a scene.*

David Alexander Hess, R.I.P.

Scenes I Love: The House On The Edge of the Park (dir. by Ruggero Deodato)


Don’t ask me why I love this scene from the 1980 grindhouse classic House on the Edge of the Park because I’ll go on and on.  I could say that I love dancing in general.  I could talk about how I own a red dress just like the one that Lorraine De Selle wears in this scene.  I could rave about how pretty Annie Bell and Christian Borromeo were when they made this movie or the time capsule appeal of David Hess’s canary yellow suit. 

But, in the end, I love this scene for two reasons:

1) The song playing in the background, composed by Riz Ortolani, is so bad yet so addictive and,

2) Giovanni Lombardo Radice is just so adorable doing his little dance.

6 Trailers Designed To Induce Hysteria


This latest edition of Lisa Marie’s Favorite Grindhouse and Exploitation Trailers was meant to have a theme.  I was only going to include trailers of films that have been reviewed on the Hysteria Lives! website.  Unfortunately, I ran in to some trouble with the New Year’s Evil trailer and I ended up going with a different trailer of a movie that hasn’t been reviewed on the site.  So, yes, the theme kinda falls apart at the end.  But anyway, let’s get things started…

1) The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh (1970)

Sergio Martino doesn’t get as much attention as Dario Argento, Lucio Fulci, and Mario Bava but he made some giallo classics and this is one of them.  Yes, the trailer’s in Italian but stick with it anyway.  Also, the person who uploaded this to Youtube, included another trailer — this one for Lucio Fulci’s Lizard In A Woman’s Skin — after the end of the Mrs. Wardh trailer.

2) Happy Birthday To Me (1981)

You can tell that this trailer from 1981 isn’t messing around because the birthday cake gets it!  I saw this movie on TV a few years ago.  The brain surgery scenes really freaked me out.  Another thing that freaked me out was a scene where all the high school snobs decided to spend their night at a special showing of High Noon.  Why couldn’t I have gone to high school with a bunch of film snobs?  Seriously, life sucks.

3) Don’t Open The Door (made in 1975, released in 1979)

All together now: “Don’t.  Don’t.  Don’t.  Don’t.  Don’t…”  With all due respect to the very hot Eli Roth, that was my favorite of the fake trailers from Grindhouse.  Anyway, Don’t is not a real film but Don’t Open The Door is.  Exploitation film of the 70s and the 80s were always trying to tell us how to live our lives.  Don’t stand by the window, don’t look in the basement, don’t go in the house, don’t go into the woods…alone, and now, apparently we can’t even open the freaking door.  This actually reminds me of this time that we were visiting my grandma and I was up in the attic exploring and I heard my sisters downstairs calling out my name because they couldn’t find me so I tried to open the attic door and I accidentally yanked off the door knob.  Agck!  That was scary.  But I survived and here’s the trailer…

4) Body Count (1987)

I haven’t seen this one so all of my information on it comes from what I’ve read online.  Apparently, this was Italian director Ruggero Deodato’s attempt to make an American-style slasher film so, of course, it takes place at a summer camp.  David Hess is in this one and apparently, he’s not playing the killer for once.  Former Russ Meyer star Charles Napier is in this one too.  As for why I love this trailer, just listen to narrator at the end of the trailer when he starts tossing out various taglines.  It’s as if the film’s producers were arguing about which tagline to use and finally someone said, “Fuck it, just toss them all in there!  Now, shut up and behave!  It’s time for dinner!”

5) Scalps (1983)

Horror will surround you … and we’re not just talking about the acting.  I love it when trailers dare you to actually sit through the entire movie.  (And, I should add, that I own Scalps on DVD and, bad acting aside, it’s actually a surprisingly effective little horror movie.)

6) Bloody New Year (1987)

I wanted to include the trailer for a film called New Year’s Evil here but the only one I could find had this huge advertising logo across the bottom of it.  But while I searched, I came across the trailer for another New Year’s horror film, Bloody New Year.  And you know what?  I’ve seen New Year’s Evil and it sucks and it had a really nasty sort of sadism to it that makes you feel dirty after you watch it.  So, fuck New Year’s Evil.  Now, let’s all have a Bloody New Year!

Finally, since that Lizard in a Woman’s Skin extra actually means that there were 7 trailers in this edition as opposed to 6, I’m going to add one more bonus trailer so that we can end things on an even number.  There’s no way I couldn’t take the opportunity to include Edgar Wright’s brilliant fake trailer, Don’t.